Wild Card Weekend: San Diego Chargers At Cincinnati Bengals
- QuarterbackPhilip Rivers had one of the best seasons of any NFL quarterback – not named Peyton Manning – as he completed 69.5 percent of his passes and had a 32-11 TD-interception ratio. Rivers made a conscious decision to take what opposing defenses gave him and he did not force the ball into coverage this season. Continuing with that gameplan is what the Chargers need if they're going to come up with the road victory.The Bengals have been a consistent team that has made the playoffs each of the past three seasons. If they are going to come up with a postseason victory, Andy Dalton is going to have to stay calm under pressure and avoid mistakes. Dalton is coming off a four-interception performance against Baltimore and it’s going to be hard for head coach Marvin Lewis to trust him when the game is on the line.
- OffenseThe Chargers don’t have a lot of gamebreakers on offense, but Ryan Mathews has been a solid running back who gets the most out of each carry. He gained 1,255 yards and 4.4 yards per carry, taking much of the heat off of Rivers. Keenan Allen is an improving wide receiver who makes athletic catches, while tight end Antonio Gates is dependable on third-down plays.The Bengals have one of the top 1-2 punches at the running back position. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is their dependable hammer who can run between the tackles and pick up first downs. Explosive Giovanni Bernard can jet to the outside and break long plays. Wide receiver A.J. Green had a special season, catching 98-1,426-11, while No. 2 receiver Marvin Jones had 10 TD catches.
- DefenseThe Chargers hustled and played hard on defense, but they had some gaffes in the fourth quarter of several games. That could be a problem against the explosive Bengals’ offense. Free safety Eric Weddle is an aggressive player who led the team with 115 tackles and 12 passes defensed. Defensive end Corey Liuget had 5.5 sacks and 42 tackles.The Bengals played consistent defense all season despite losing All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins early in the season. The Bengals ranked third in yards allowed, and it’s hard to find a more impressive player than linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who led the team with 171 tackles. Defensive end Carlos Dunlap had 7.5 sacks and forced four fumbles.
- Special TeamsThe Chargers did a solid job in punt and kickoff coverage this season, and they are hoping that Allen or speedy Eddie Royal can give them a big return in this game. Placekicker Nick Novak had a superb season, connecting on 34-of-37 FG attempts.The Bengals gave up one punt return for a touchdown, but they were basically solid on special-teams coverage. Brandon Tate is a fast return man who can find the creases. Placekicker Mike Nugent had just 22 attempts this season, making 18 of them.
The Chargers are playing with house money as they made the playoffs in Mike McCoy’s first year as head coach. They should be able to play free and easy, while the pressure is squarely on the Bengals’ shoulders because they have not won a playoff game in the Marvin Lewis era. -Steve Silverman, CBS Local Sports contributor